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North Hills hockey to relay on defense early on

| Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, 1:48 a.m.

In a matter of minutes, the North Hills hockey team experienced the highs and lows of playoff hockey in their 6-5 first-round loss to Shaler in the PIHL Class AA Penguins Cup playoffs last year.

The Indians rallied from four goals down to force overtime, but were unable to finish the job.

One game into the season, the Indians have already experienced the same kind of defeat, losing to Quaker Valley 5-4 in overtime in their season-opener.

“How about that for last game last year and the first game this year?” North Hills coach Carl Kelchner said.

Kelchner is in his third season as head coach of the Indians and 12th year overall with the program.

With gaps to fill in the offensive zone, Kelchner will be looking for his defense to lead the team in the early portion of the season. Although the Indians found the back of the net four times in the season-opener, three of the goals were scored by defensemen. Senior captain Matt Berner led the way with two goals. Junior defenseman Liam O'Neill also tallied a goal for the blueliners.

“We are going to need to rely on our defense,” Kelchner said. “A lot of scoring is going to come from our defense. We are trying to find some of our offensive players to click.

“Offensively, we are still trying to find our identity. There are still some young kids I am trying to work in. It is still a work in progress.”

North Hills also will have to deal with replacing one of its top offensive players from last year, junior Ian Keller. Keller is recovering from a herniated disc in his back, and is expected to be out of commission for six to 12 weeks.

A year after going 9-10 and making the playoffs, Kelchner believes he has a good foundation to work on improving his team's results in 2017.

“Our goal is to make the playoffs, obviously,” Kelchner said. “We want to improve on last year. Every year is different. We want to play a strong defensive game and keep our penalty kill strong. We need to improve on the power play and keep working hard. The young guys need to improve. It has been an interesting year already.”

Making the playoffs will be no easy task with the schedule that the Indians play.

“In my opinion, I think it is the strongest division out of the three this year,” Kelchner said. “I talked to some other coaches, and I wasn't the only one who thought that. It is going to be a tough year.”

Drew Karpen is a freelance writer.

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